Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3 review

Last year at this time, Marvel's The Avengers was just hitting theaters. Odds you are that you saw it and were blown away by it. Marvel's Kevin Feige did a great job making five good films to set up one that on first watch is pretty great. Now he had the task of coming back to reality, where six superheros don't team up with each other. His first test was Iron Man 3. It could have very well been more of the same and been really boring. Besides the first half hour and a tepid conclusion, it isn't. Marvel's Iron Man 3 breaks somewhat new ground for a superhero movie and ends up being a good but not great start to Phase 2.

Iron Man 3 continues the adventures of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who is a nervous wreck after the events of The Avengers. He built 42 suits in his basement after the fights and can't sleep at all. Meanwhile, the country is faced with the terrorist attacks of The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), an unseen villain whose bombs have no trace. When the Mandarin destroys Tony's Malibu home, he must track down the Mandarin and face a few old enemies along the way.

I'm going to get something off right away. Iron Man 3 is not perfect. It has flaws, it has bad sections, but a large chunk of Iron Man 3 finds the right tone and is the best work that Marvel has ever done. Period. It's fantastic. Unfortunately, the first half hour is ridiculously stupid and is more like the second film than the first one. It focuses mostly on Happy (Jon Favreau) and some other stupid scenes with Stark. It's just ignorant and feels rather unrealistic and choppy. Once Tony's house is destroyed (not a spoiler) is when the movie gets great. It's about an hour and a half of the best cinema the year has had to offer so far and the final five minutes of the movie are great as well. But, the final battle is a huge letdown. Everything that the film builds up throughout the runtime comes together and barely meshes to create a rather unspectacular finale.  But, I guess that it does do a good job of lowering the ante from The Avengers, which was a grand bit of spectacle.

I want to focus on the good though. 85% of this film is flippin fantastic. Iron Man 3 overcomes the bad and makes for a ridiculously entertaining movie. The Iron Man series is best when Tony Stark isn't flying around in a suit fighting ridiculous villains. It's better when it's grounded. 2008's Iron Man is part of that great generation of action and superhero films that were essentially a response to 911 and the War on Terror. The best parts of that movie are not the explosive finale of the last twenty minutes, but when Tony is building and perfecting the suit and when he uses it on terrorists. The best part of Iron Man 3 is when Tony is teaming up with Rhodey (Don Cheadle), who finally has something to do and Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young kid who dominates several scenes with Stark, to find the Mandarin. The twists and turns of the second half add to the quality and it just keeps getting better up until the generic conclusion.

In terms of acting and use of characters, the standouts are Kingsley, Guy Pearce as a villainous corporate leader, and of course Downey. With great co-stars and a better script, Downey is given room to play and this is his movie. He is in about every scene and the movie is about Stark and not Iron Man. Gwenyth Paltrow is once again slightly irritating as Pepper Potts, but Don Cheadle is finally given a role that he can work with and while he felt awkward in Iron Man 2, he feels natural in the threequel. Kingsley is great for a reason you can't know, and Pearce plays a character very similar to Loki in terms of mannerisms.

The script is terrific. Drew Pearce and Shane Black have created a masterful blend of comedy and intense action in this film. While not infinitely quotable like The Avengers, there are some great lines and what Pearce and Black do with the characters in these films is either hilarious or the right step forward in their progression.  I think that Marvel has finally found what they want with a tone. We can finally classify Marvel movies as action comedies which is really what the comics are.

This was also the first film to give Iron Man a real theme as a superhero. All the great hero's have themes. Batman has one. Superman has one. Spider-Man has one. Now Iron Man has a less memorable, but still good musical theme.

If you look at the last few years of action cinema (specifically superhero), you'll notice that a common theme has been terrorism and how the world can't see the villains we face anymore. Skyfall focused on this theme in the field of cyberterrorism, while The Dark Knight showed how terrorism and our reaction to it dictates our lives in a way that isn't good and the means we go to stop it. Iron Man 3 is a welcome addition to the canon that is a lighter version of The Dark Knight that instead of focusing in on our reactions, focuses on the anonymous nature of today's terrorist groups. I may be overanalyzing but with the Iron Man franchises nature to deal with terrorism, I wouldn't be surprised if it was intentional.

I will say though, the final battle is a let down. It's boring and crazy and unlike Joss Whedon, Shane Black doesn't have quite the control over the action scenes. At this point, I've seen all the spectacle in the world and a battle on a dock isn't going to excite me. However, it is exciting to see the conclusion between Tony and The Mandarin.

Go see Iron Man 3. You will have fun. You will enjoy it more than I did. And I really did enjoy it. It's a lot of fun and on par with the rest of the series (I'm a defender of Iron Man 2) and maybe even better. But I think that if the beginning and end were touched up, Marvel could have had something great on their hands.

THE FINAL GRADE:   B+                                          (7.5/10)

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